By Brad Bohlke
After being picked to win the 2015 World Series by Sports Illustrated the expectations of the 2015 Cleveland Indians went through the roof. After opening the first two months of the season below the .500 mark, the Indians had to play catch up the entire year and eventually fell short despite a late run in early September. Like every team, things were seen and analyzed that will give the front office a better feel for what the team needs to improve on in the off-season. Perhaps the category that plagued the Indians the hardest in 2014 was on defense but the Indians finished third in all of baseball in 2015 in defensive runs saved with 23 runs saved. The movement of Lonnie Chisenhall to right field turned out fantastic and rookie phenom Francisco Lindor flashed brilliance with the leather at short and at the plate. The teams starting pitching staff were tremendous again despite holding just one household name. 2014 Cy Young winner Corey Kluber wasn’t as miraculous as he was a season ago but still showed his slider is one of the best pitches in baseball. Kluber posted a 3.49 ERA, a 2.97 FIP, and 245 strikeouts. While to improve the lackluster offense this offseason the front office will likely have to move an arm such as Carlos Carrasco or Danny Salazar the pitching staff was still tremendous posting a 3.67 ERA which was 2nd in the American League and leading the American League in strikeouts at 1407. If the Indians want to truly push over the top some additions to the offense will have to be done but the team still has an impressive young brass of players headlined by Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, and Fransisco Lindor. With Mark Shapiro off to Toronto and Chris Antonetti filling his shoes and with the addition of new General Manager Mike Chernoff here are some free agents that fit both budget, and need for the Indians this off-season.
Denard Span, Outfielder
After 2 years of solid productions for the Nationals Span was setting himself up for a nice payday this offseason. After an injury plagued 2015 campaign Span recorded just 246 at bats which likely caused the Nationals to hold back using a qualifying offer on him. For a team like the Indians, this could certainly benefit a smaller market team. While second baseman Jason Kipnis is a solid candidate as a leadoff hitter it seems he, and the rest of the lineup, could benefit by moving him down in the lineup. Span provides the hit and speed tool that is needed atop the lineup. At 31 he can play all three outfield positions. While Span has very limited power before last season he averaged an impressive 35 doubles per year in 2013-2014. With his age and injury history, this may be the last multi-year contract Span gets in his career but a team will likely benefit after an injury, but another team will have to run that risk of singing Span. Span will likely get a deal for somewhere around 3 years between $10-$12 million per year.
Austin Jackson, Outfielder
Over the past two seasons, Austin Jackson has bounced around between the National and the American League. Once he was a catalyst in a potent 2012 Tigers offense but times have passed and Jackson has lost pop in his bat. Jackson will not blow anyone away, he’s nearly replaceable on defense with a dWAR drifting around 0 the past two years and his oWAR isn’t that much higher. Perhaps the best thing going for Jackson his he’s a fairly young free agent at the age of 28 and still can move well on the base paths averages 18 steals the past two seasons. If push comes to shove Jackson could be an option to split time in center or right field as his OPS hasn’t risen above .700 the past two seasons.
Marlon Byrd, Outfielder
Talking about bouncing around teams since 2012 Byrd has played for 7 teams. While this can be looked at in different perspectives it may suggest that Byrd has been used a mainly a rental the past couple years with the veteran faulting to Father Time. Even at 38 Byrd is a 20 homer threat that could benefit playing in the American League as a designated hitter. It would appear the Indians want Carlos Santana to stay away from first base posting a negative dWAR the past two seasons and is yet to be seen if Santana can live up to the billing of his $12 million dollar contract this upcoming season. Byrd’s defense in the corner outfield positions isn’t exactly breathtaking either, but he is a strong right-handed bat that could give the lineup the force it needs. For his age, Byrd has been relatively healthy but for a 38-year-old outfielder with only one legitimate tool it’s hard seeing him getting anything higher than a one-year deal worth $8-$9 million.
Antonio Bastardio, Relief Pitcher
Despite being left handed the Pirates pitched Bastardio double the innings against right handed hitters than left handed hitters. This suggests that Bastardio was obviously used in more of a matchup role, but an absurd 0.48 ERA in 19.2 innings against left-handed hitters may point to Bastardio thriving in that position. Bastardio’s overall ERA was still solid at 2.98 ERA but breaking down the splits shows he was untouchable against lefties. While production over the last two years will still grant the 30-year-old a solid income this winter the Indians could use Bastardio as a match-up nightmare for 2016.
Juan Uribe, Third Baseman
The days of Juan Uribe being an everyday third baseman are likely gone and at 36 one can certainly make the argument that this deal would actually not benefit the Tribe and help minimally. While Uribe will be a 2nd tier free agent obviously he could be the clubhouse presence the fairly young club needs. While Giovanny Urshela may be better off of the two with the leather, Uribe has provided league average offense the past three seasons netting an OPS above .730 in that time. Obviously this won’t be a major move but if the Tribe has any doubt about Urshela’s bat gaining a veteran who still provide league average play may not be a bad move at a position that was in flux last year for the Indians.
Grady Sizemore, Outfielder
Ok I am reaching here at a little bit but if the Indians were to go super deep and look for a 5th outfielder option Grady Sizemore wouldn’t be a bad look. I know, I’m an Indians fan, I know Sizemore’s knees are rubber bands and I’m not expecting 2008 production from Sizemore, (I say that extremely sarcastically) but to bring along for the cheap price could happen. Sizemore’s days of patrolling centerfield are over but Sizemore’s .747 OPS in 58 games in Tampa Bay is promising. The Indians may be “dumpster diving” here, but 60 games out of Sizemore as a 5th outfielder could happen.
Tony Sipp, Left-handed reliever
A breakout 2015 campaign may have propelled Tony Sipp into getting a pretty healthy contract for a reliever who is on the wrong side of 30. In 54 1/3 innings pitches, Sipp pitched to a 1.99 ERA and 62 strikeouts. The best thing Sipp has going for him as a reliever is that he effectively pitched to both righties and lefties in about the same amount of at bats, (97 to LHH .190 AVG., 100 to RHH .227 AVG.) With the reliever market always being an interesting one because quality set up men are hard to come across and bullpens are very valuable, (ask the Royals) teams will overpay occasionally on these setup men. It’s easy to call out Sipp as he hasn’t pitched to an ERA below 3 outside of 2009 with the Indians, the reliever could provide a need to a sometimes erratic bullpen. With Kyle Crockett being the only legitimate lefty in the Indians bullpen, the team certainly has to be on the lookout for a southpaw out of the pen. While it may be a little pricy a reunion with the Indians could benefit both parties in this situation.
David Freese, Third Baseman
When most baseball fans come across David Freese they likely remember his postseason terror with the Cardinals back when the red birds won the World Series. That was 2011 and while Freese hasn’t exactly put up those numbers like he did that year, he is still a quality third baseman. The third base position for the Indians spurted last season when Lonnie Chisenhall couldn’t handle the bat well enough and ultimately moved positions. Third base last year was mostly a mix of Mike Aviles, Jose Ramirez, and Giovanny Urshela. Urshela was brilliant with the glove, but the bat may need some work. What the Indians need is consistency and David Freese brings that mostly to the table. Nothing jumps out on paper with Freese as his .743 OPS is slightly above league average along with the combined 24 home runs he has hit the last two years. Health is a concern with Freese as the right-handed hitter hasn’t played in more than 140 games since 2012. Again nothing is too sexy about Freese other than the fact that he the epitome of an average third baseman. Averagely here is good and so is consistency and brining Freese along for a 2-3 year deal for $7-$10 million per would lock down the hot corner for the Tribe.
No one is expecting Jason Hayward or Yoenis Cespedes on the roster next season but the Indians are close and these options are intriguing. With All- Star outfielder Michael Brantley being out for at least the first month of the season, the team has to move an arm to acquire another potent bat. The recent failure to improve in free agency, (I’m looking at you Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher!) may cause the Indians to be gun-shy to pull the trigger on a bigger name, but the team isn’t far away. The biggest move the Tribe makes may be in trade discussions and not necessarily free agency, but the pieces provided here could push the Indians above the hill and achieve the AL Central crown.